More must be done to address the “crisis” in the number of family doctors working in the NHS, leading medics have said.
The British Medical Association called on ministers to address the workforce shortage of GPs after a new report highlighted the dwindling number of training doctors.
The doctors’ union said that too many family doctors are retiring early while too few are being recruited.
The news comes after Health Education England published its GP Taskforce report which states that GP recruitment has been “stubbornly low” for the last four years.
It says that despite the long-standing Department of Health target to increase GP training numbers to 3,250 every year, the target has been missed for the last four years, with around 2,700 being recruited each year.
The authors of the report state: “GP recruitment has remained stubbornly below this target, at around 2,700 per annum, for the last four years.
“This cumulative recruitment shortfall is being compounded by increasing numbers of trained GPs leaving the workforce, most significantly GPs approaching retirement, but perhaps more worryingly women in their 30s.
“GP recruitment and retention is a much bigger problem in some parts of the country and often in those areas which have the worst health outcomes.
“General Practice delivered around 309 million consultations in 2008, representing 90 per cent of NHS contacts.
“Securing the supply of healthcare professionals to meet this demand now and into the future is vital: even a marginal shift of patients away from primary to secondary care would put the whole healthcare system under unmanageable pressure.”
Dr Richard Vautrey, deputy chairman of the BMA’s general practitioners committee, said: “We have reached a serious crisis point where not enough GPs are being recruited and too many are retiring early.
“Recent GP trainee recruitment figures showed hundreds of vacancies across the UK.
“A BMA survey in March suggested that six out of 10 GPs were considering early retirement, with a third actively planning for this decision.
“There is no longer any time to waste and the government needs to implement the findings of this report in full and begin a programme of sustained, long-term investment in the GP workforce.”
A Department of Health spokeswoman said: “We know GPs are working under pressure which is why we have cut GPs’ targets to free up time with patients and are increasing trainees so that GP numbers continue to grow faster than the population.”